Filmmaker Jane Campion has apologised to tennis players Venus and Serena Williams for her comment directed at them during her acceptance speech at the Critics Choice Awards on Sunday.
Campion’s film The Power of the Dog bagged the Best Film and Best Director awards at the event, and when accepting the latter, the director had said, “And you know, Serena and Venus, you are such marvels. However, you do not play against the guys like I have to.”
The statement drew criticism from netizens, who called the comment racist and insulting to the tennis champions.
Writer Naomi Faingold wrote on Twitter, “Is Jane Campion aware what Venus and Serena had to deal with in the whitest of sports? What an insulting comparison. She must have not watched King Richard. Serena Williams was right when she recently wrote, ‘No matter how far we come, we get reminded that it’s not enough.'”
Roxane Gay, author of the book Bad Feminist, said that it is “amazing how much real estate the Williams occupy in people’s minds,” and continued, “And in addition to the racism of it all, Campion is suggesting that competing against men is more difficult/legitimate than competing against women. Has she met women?”
Carolyn Hinds, a freelance critic and podcaster, wrote on Twitter, “What Jane Campion said in her speech was not funny or appropriate. It was racist. White people laughing, and thinking it was valid shows why there’s still so many damn issues in this industry. They’re okay with the casual racism because they don’t see racism the way we do.”
Journalist Ernest Owens pointed out that had the Williams sisters responded to Campion’s statement, the attention would have turned toward them. “Black people are often forced to choose between speaking up or total isolation,” he wrote.
Following the wide-spread criticism of her remark, Campion has issued an apology to the tennis players.
In a statement shared with the LA Times, the filmmaker termed her comment “thoughtless” and wrote that it was not intended to devalue the athletes.
“The fact is the Williams sisters have, actually, squared off against men on the court (and off), and they have both raised the bar and opened doors for what is possible for women in this world,” Campion continued, adding, “The last thing I would ever want to do is minimise remarkable women. I love Serena and Venus. Their accomplishments are titanic and inspiring. Serena and Venus, I apologise and completely celebrate you.”
The tennis players were present at the Critics Choice Awards to support the film King Richard, which is based on their father Richard Williams. Will Smith, who essayed the titular role, won the Best Actor award at the event.